Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Secretly Vetting Potential 2020 Democratic Contenders; Robert De Niro Bashes Trump at Tony Awards; Kim Jong-Un Takes Selfies, Tours Singapore Ahead of Trump Summit; Missing Air Force Officer Arrested in California; Ship with Immigrants Stranded in Mediterranean Sea. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 11, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:40] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Chief counselor for the Democratic Party, that may be the chosen road for the former president, Barack Obama. He's been largely quiet during President Trump's first 500 days. But more recently, behind the scenes, the former president has been holding court with several prospective Democratic Party flag bearers who may have their eyes on the 2020 presidential race.

Here with us right now, Edward-Isaac Dovere, chief Washington correspondent for "Politico," and CNN political analyst, Karoun Demirjian.

Isaac, you wrote the piece. You were the first to break this. He's been meeting with a bunch of potential Democratic candidates. Tell us about it.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: At least nine that I could track over the course of the last couple of months. They range from people you might have heard more about, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to some of the further-out contenders, like Jason Candor. He's also met with Joe Biden and Duval Patrick. Some people who have gotten in there, Kamala Harris, Terry McAuliffe. It is the president trying to be a counselor, to give it some guidance, some advice. He sees it not as his job to come up with a plan on what the Democratic Party is supposed to do, but help advise the people who, in his mind, are the future of the party and get them to a place that would do well for Democrats in the future.

BLITZER: He's got a lot of experience in 2006, 2007 and the election in 2008. He came from being largely unknown to becoming the Democratic nominee and then the president for two terms.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, he has built his own career or has tracked to becoming president very, very quickly. He can advise as much as he can from that point, but I think some of it is personality. I think it depends on the electorate actually warming to somebody. That's one of those intangibles that you need to find a candidate, maybe not craft a candidate just on the advice of somebody because he's got it. Certainly, he's playing an important role behind the scenes. He can play an important role in fundraising as well. But is a behind-scenes role. Obama cannot be seen as pulling the strings for the Democratic Party because he's a polarizing figure. Unfortunately, people really love him or they really hate him. And I think the Democratic Party has known that for a long time. You gain a lot with Obama, but if he's too front and center taking the stage, he can't run again, you can't vote for him again, and he turns a lot of people off who are maybe Trump supporters.

BLITZER: Of all the Democrat potential candidates -- let's put their pictures back up on the screen -- that he's been meeting informally with these past several months, I assume he's the closest to the man who was his vice president for eight years, Joe Biden, who does seem to be giving some suggestions that he seriously is thinking about running for president.

DOVERE: He is seriously thinking about it. He has sincerely come to the place where he says, he'll have to focus on the midterms. He'll make a decision based on his family and his feelings about the race toward the end of the year, beginning of next year. He and Obama are actually friends. It's one thing people can maybe overlook, so they've been in touch as friends. But Biden was in the office there, which is about a mile from the White House, and he was there in January. That's the last time he was in in person. But like the others, spent a lot of time one on one with the president. And these meetings have been kept very closely held. A number of advisers close to the potential candidates that I talked to didn't even know about them because they are worried about breaking Obama's confidence. And Obama himself is very cautious, always, about not letting himself be drawn into a political fight against Trump. And that's not how he's coming out in this.

BLITZER: All the vibes I get is Joe Biden is seriously thinking about this.

Robert De Niro was at the Tonys last night. He spoke about the president of the United States in not such a nice way. Listen to this.


ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Robert De Niro.







BLITZER: Obviously, we couldn't play what he actually said.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. No, he used some colorful language. This is the thing. He certainly got a lot of cheers in the Tony audience. That's preaching to the choir in a lot of ways. It's a venting, I suppose, of frustration that I think a lot of people feel of the president, but does it get you anywhere? Do you win anyone over if you're actually maybe trying to look forward? I don't think so. But you do see celebrities sometimes trying to build bridges and sometimes you see them lighting things on fire, and I think this counts as the latter category.

[13:35:02] BLITZER: But does it play to the president's base? Does it give the president help politically to see this exchange that he had with the audience in New York?

DOVERE: I would guess that people who were upset about it are already voting for Donald Trump, and the people against him were voting against Donald Trump. What you saw also last night at the ceremony was like Tony Kushner, who won for "Best Revival of Angels in America" saying, get out in midterms. That sort of thing is maybe calling attention to that, more than just centered on the anger here.

DEMIRJIAN: Awards shows are not divorced from politics, they never have been, especially because a lot of these public figures believe they have a bully pulpit to speak from. There's ways of doing that. They had the Parkland kids who were singing. That was a very moving moment. And this. Again, it probably -- yes, people who listen to this closely and focus on it are probably already in one camp or another. But again, some people get rubbed the wrong way when language is a little bit too strong, and that's always a risk you take.

BLITZER: Kouran and Isaac, guys, thank you very much for coming in.

DOVERE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just a short time from now, Kim Jong-Un and President Trump are set to be face to face in Singapore as the North Korean dictator surprises Singapore by spending some time out on the town. I'll speak with someone who has negotiated over the years with the North Koreans and I'll ask him to what expect later.

Also, more than 600 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea with no place to go after two countries refused to let the ship dock and let these migrants in. What's next for them? We have new information.


[13:40:51] BLITZER: The entire world is focused on Singapore right now as President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, prepare to meet face to face in just a few hours.

Let's get some perspective. I want to bring in former New Mexico governor, former ambassador to the U.N., Bill Richardson. He's a former U.S. North Korean negotiator. He's been to North Korea on several occasions, met with Kim Jong-Un's father, Kim Jong-Il, back in 2005.

Governor, thank you so much for joining us. We're now told that the first round -- if there's more than one we'll

see -- but the first round will be the president and the North Korean leader one on one with only their translators present. Is that wise?

BILL RICHARDSON, (R), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR & FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. & FORMER U.S. NEGOTIATOR ON NORTH KOREA: Yes, that is wise, because the North Koreans, you don't make deals with them across a negotiating table. As you've covered North Korea, they vent on the negotiating table. They do their talking points. You make deals with the North Koreans on the side. Hopefully, they'll get a chance to build some trust, know each other. I think the vibrations I'm getting from this one on one and Kim Jong-Un walking on his own is one of confidence. I must say for the first time in a long time on U.S.- North Korea relations, I'm a bit hopeful.

BLITZER: Well, that's very encouraging to see at least a meeting, and many of us are hoping it will be at least successful because the alternative is a disaster for everyone concerned.

But the preparations for the meeting, the president said, and he said this the other day in Canada, he thinks his gut instincts are really good. He might know in a minute or so whether this will be fruitful, whether this will be positive. What do you think?

RICHARDSON: The president has his known negotiating strategy. Mainly I don't think it works like what happened with this debacle in Quebec. But I think the president is using personal diplomacy, which, with Kim Jong-Un, might work. So the worry that I have is that the North Koreans, they negotiate in their own style. They never say yes. They keep you waiting. They find ways not to have timelines, not to stick to the agreement. The worry that I have is the North Koreans always want you to do something first, like a security guarantee, like a peace agreement, and then we'll maybe do denuclearization at our own pace. I hope that isn't the main framework. But at the same time i do think Secretary Pompeo has done a good job of narrowing our differences. We're setting up a process. This is not going to be a one-time meeting but a series of negotiations. Hopefully, Wolf, they'll name a working group on missiles, on nuclear weapons, on human rights, on the remains of our soldiers, on issues of normalization, exchange of -- I don't think ambassadors, but maybe a liaison office. Because, you know, we've been isolated from each other.

BLITZER: That's a fair point. Let's see what they do emerge in terms of announcing some sort of continued dialogue following the meeting.

The optics are very significant, and as you know, a lot of analysts have suggested this is already a public relations win for North Korea because the North Korean leader is being well received on the international stage right now. Is it already a win for Kim Jong-Un?

RICHARDSON: Yes, it is a win for him, because he's now a world player on the international stage. He can go to his people, North Korea, even though he doesn't have too many elections, and say, look, I'm on par with the president of the United States. And you know that the North Koreans have always said, look, let's negotiate in Asia, U.S. and North Korea. We're the big guys with nuclear weapons, not South Korea, not Japan, not China, even they're main benefactor. So it's already a win for Kim Jong-Un, but if he miscalculates and tries to skate and not honor agreements, it's not going to be good for him.

BLITZER: I'm wondering, Governor, since you've been to North Korea on several occasions, you've had a dialogue with senior North Korea officials, you've worked to bring Americans home from North Korea, has anyone from the Trump administration called and you asked for your thoughts in advance of this historic summit?

[13:45:06] RICHARDSON: Well, yes, I've had a conversation with Secretary Pompeo, a good conversation where he was listening. In the past, they hadn't done that. And I think this is very important, that the president has had too many messengers on North Korea, the national security adviser, the vice president talking about Libya, where Gadhafi was annihilated. That's not a good message to send to Kim Jong-Un. So I think one messenger, who has met with Kim Jong-Un twice, who opened the intelligence channel with the North Koreans, who has some diplomatic experience. What we have is a path to diplomacy hopefully that will transpire over the next two to three years. So having too many messengers, having the staff, all of a sudden, like they did in Quebec, which was totally inappropriate -- it's OK for a president to take off on another leader, but the staff? I mean, this is incredible. I hope that doesn't happen with North Korea.

BLITZER: Yes. All of us hope that doesn't happen with North Korea.

It's interesting that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who has been to Pyongyang now twice, met with the North Korean leader. He refers to him with a great deal of respect, calls him Chairman Kim, which is obviously something the North Koreans clearly appreciate.

Governor Richardson, thanks as usual for joining us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: A stunning twist in a mystery that has spanned decades. A U.S. Air Force officer missing for 35 years, whose disappearance spurred theories he was abduct by the Soviets, he's now found alive living in California. Now he's in custody. We'll have the story. That's next.


[13:51:13] BLITZER: A stunning discovery. Investigators finally cracking a decades old mystery. A U.S. Air Force officer with top- secret security clearances went missing 35 years ago, and the Air Force officially declared him a deserter. But now, investigators finally found him living in California under a secret identity.

CNN's Dan Simon joins us now from Daly City, in California, where this former U.S. Army -- Air Force officer was living.

Tell us how all this unfolded.

DAN SIMON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. This is just outside of San Francisco. And this is the neighborhood and street where this Air Force captain had been living under a false name. He called himself Barry O'Beirne.

There were all kinds of theories over the years as to what happened to him. He went to the Netherlands in July of 1983, he had been due back in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the following month. And Captain Hughes just never made it back. So his family thought he was abducted. That didn't stop conspiracy theorists from speculating that perhaps he had defected to Russia. But after all this time, he had been living in California.

This all came to light because federal investigators had zeroed in on a fraud investigation dealing with his passport. That's how they discovered all of this.

We spoke to some neighbors and they say he was a friendly enough guy. He was a retired actuary. Worked for an insurance company. Loved the San Francisco Giants. But, of course, they were stunned to hear this will news. This is what one person had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very shocking. Very pleasant individual. Very shocking. I wouldn't have known anything like that at all. I had no idea. He seemed to be close to my age.

I felt like we had walked similar paths in life. And he was retiring and enjoying his retirement. That's about as much in depth as I knew about him, my neighbor.


SIMON: Captain Hughes told Air Force investigators that he was depressed being in the Air Force and that's why he did what he did and assumed this identity. Of course, many questions remain, Wolf. But we know he's being held at Travis Air Force Base, in Fairfield, California. It's unclear exactly what charges he'll ultimately face.

BLITZER: Yes, after 35 years, it's pretty amazing story.

Dan Simon, thanks very much for that report.

More news, a human drama unfolding right now right in the middle of the Mediterranean. More than 600 migrants stranded on a ship after countries refused to take them in. You'll hear what's happening.

Also, Dennis Rodman arriving in Singapore ahead of the president's summit with Kim Jong-Un. What the basketball star is saying about his role in this historic event.


[13:58:07] BLITZER: A very disturbing story right now. A ship carrying more than 600 rescued migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea. There are sick passengers in need of medical care, seven pregnant women, and more than 120 unaccompanied minors or children. The ship is caught in the middle of a diplomatic stand-off between Italy and Malta. Both countries are refusing entry, although, Spain has said the ship would be welcome there.

CNN's Delia Gallagher is in Rome.

Delia, why won't Italy or Malta allow the ship into port?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the ship is about an equal distance between Malta and Italy. Looks like it's closer to Malta, about 27 nautical miles versus 35 to Italy.

Malta says it's not their jurisdiction. Italy conducted the search and rescue, so they should be responsible for it.

Italy, Wolf, has a newly installed government. They were elected on a major anti-immigration platform. This is one of the first actions we've seen from them. They're trying to force the hand of European partners to help Italy with the influx of migrants, something that their interior minister said today, wolf, was not going to end. This will not be the last time we see this. He intends to close Italy's ports to any other NGO rescue vessels until the European Union agrees to help Italy out more -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So it will go to Spain?

GALLAGHER: So it's meant to go to Spain. Right now, it's still stuck, Wolf. The Spanish government said it will accept it in the port of Valencia. The problem with that is it will take a couple days to get there. People there are getting agitated. They do have food, which has been delivered to them, but it will take several days for them to reach the port of Valencia -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's hope those people are OK.

Delia Gallagher, thanks very much.

That's it for me.

The news continues right now on CNN.